With the announcement that Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph had been cast as the title roles in Freeform’s upcoming “Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger” and filming set to start this month, the series is finally coming to fruition after being in development hell since at least 2011.
But with superhero television approaching saturation, do we really need a “Cloak and Dagger” series, when the duo had their heyday in the 1980s, with only scattered appearances since?
In a word: Yes. In fact, Cloak and Dagger are more relevant now than they have been in decades, and putting them at the center of their own show will let Marvel and Freeform tell different types of stories than those we’ve seen so far in the MCU. In other words, “Cloak and Dagger” has the potential to be Marvel Television’s most socially-relevant project since “Luke Cage.”
For those of you not familiar with the characters, Cloak and Dagger are the superhero identities of Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen, teen runaways who become unwilling test subjects for a new “synthetic heroin,” gaining powers in the process. Cloak can encompass others in darkness, while Dagger can create psionic light “daggers.”
When they first appeared in “Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man” #64 in 1982, Cloak and Dagger were about as culturally-relevant as comic characters can be. In a decade obsessed with teenage runaways, urban gangs and drug addiction, they were teenage runaways whose powers were the result of tainted drugs. Their relevance increased as the decade progressed, especially after First Lady Nancy Reagan launched the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign.
As homeless kids and the drug epidemic were slowly replaced on the nightly news with other issues, thus Cloak and Dagger also started disappearing from comic pages. Their last ongoing series was cancelled in 1991, and while they have had some prominent supporting roles since then, their self-titled appearances have been limited to a 2010 one-shot and a three issue miniseries tying in to “Spider-Island.” Cloak and Dagger have hardly been forgotten, but they have rarely felt essential since their early years. The lone exceptions, the duo’s guest appearances in “Runaways,” (another Marvel comic turning TV show in 2018) were notable for emphasizing the connections between the two groups as teen runaways.
And yet, 2017 is the perfect time for a “Cloak and Dagger” TV series, as the social problems that tied into Cloak and Dagger’s origins have returned with a vengeance.
After decades of declines in homelessness, major cities are once again seeing significant increases in their homeless populations as a result of the economic malaise caused by the Great Recession, made worse by ever-increasing housing costs. In 2016, the number of homelessness living in New York City reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. The homeless need heroes just as much today as they did in 1982, and Cloak and Dagger — being runaways themselves — are a perfect fit.
Homelessness will likely also take on special importance in the Freeform series, since it will be set (and filmed) in New Orleans, which has experienced its own homelessness crisis after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Although the city has made significant improvements in the decade since, homelessness and displacement remain major issues that “Cloak and Dagger” will almost certainly explore.
The series could also frame the teen heroes as the protectors of the ultimate homeless runaways: refugees. The last few years have brought humanitarian disasters around the world, with more people now displaced from their homes than at any time in world history (including the years after World War II). No doubt Cloak and Dagger would step up to help refugees fleeing cartel violence in Central America and Mexico, civil war in Syria, or anarchy in Somalia.
Lest anyone think we’re needlessly projecting contemporary politics onto characters, it’s important to note that co-creator Bill Mantlo conceived of the duo after visiting Ellis Island, the entryway into the United States for generations of immigrants. According to Mantlo, the pair “embodied between them all that fear and misery, hunger and longing that had haunted me on Ellis Island.” With that in mind, it’s fairly obvious that Cloak and Dagger would absolutely stand up for immigrants seeking a better life.
Cloak and Dagger are also unexpectedly relevant again as drug addiction has once more become a national issue. When prescription opioid addicts trying to get a bigger high can result in HIV epidemics, their origin story — the result of the unexpected side effects of an experimental synthetic heroin — doesn’t seem as big of a stretch as it once did.
Cloak and Dagger are also ideally placed to deal with the use of deadly force by the police. In the comics, Tyrone (Cloak) became a runaway after a friend was shot and killed by a police officer who mistakenly believed he had robbed a store. (Tyrone tried to stop the shooting, but was blocked by his severe stutter.) I would be genuinely shocked if “Cloak and Dagger” doesn’t explore a similar story, as well as the obvious visual similarities between Tyrone’s cloak and Trayvon Martin’s hoodie.
And, with Marvel also working on a “Runaways” series for Hulu, there is the potential for a truly epic crossover. While the logistics might be difficult to work out — a crossover between a cable network and a streaming service like Hulu could prove impossible, at least in the short term — the two groups have a long history in the comics. And where the comic versions of Cloak and Dagger are several years older than the Runaways, their TV iterations will be closer in age, potentially creating a dynamic more like that between the Runaways and the Young Avengers. Speaking of which, have we mentioned how much the world needs a “Young Avengers” series?
Is it Winter 2018 yet?
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